When it comes to social media, personal responses make a difference

Recent social media debacles from Domino’s Pizza and Bank of America made me think about the best approach for engaging with your social media audience. We frequently discuss the importance of paying careful attention to customer feedback and responding in real-time, as remaining silent makes your business seem divested from the social space, but the responses from Domino’s and Bank of America drive home the importance of well-considered and personalized responses.

In both cases, these enterprise-level companies relied on an automated system to respond to fan comments due to the sheer volume of comments each brand receives. While this solution does cut down on staffing and maintains social activity levels, both companies were subject to the pitfalls of using a robot for social media interaction. In each case, the auto-response completely misunderstood the fans’ sentiment. As a result, both brands were damaged and, ironically, looked less engaged to their fan bases than if they had just selectively chosen to respond to fans’ posts and tweets.

Many big box hotels and resorts are faced with the same conundrum: which comments should be responded to, which should be left alone, and how to go about it? Moreover, the challenge of staffing for social media response, without any guarantee of hard ROI, is an unwelcome prospect for many hoteliers. However, the mistakes from these big brands show that the cost of hiring a few community managers to manage day-to-day engagement outweighs the damage you will do to your brand when robots fail to respond intelligently.

The same approach should apply for online reviews. TripAdvisor’s recent Trip Barometer report indicated that 68% of travelers who see a management response below a hotel review are more likely to book with that hotel versus a hotel without a response. A 2012 Forrester-TripAdvisor study similarly reported that 78% of users agree that seeing a hotel management response to reviews “makes me believe that it cares more about its guests.” While it’s clear that hotels should be actively responding to reviews, the same damage can be done when a hotel favors an automated system or copy-and-paste template over a human-generated reply. When a response is not personalized – whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or a travel review site – it negates any perception that the hotel cares about its consumers.

While many enterprise-level brands favor an automated response system over human staffing, it comes with risk to your online reputation. After all, the main purpose of social media is to humanize your brand and show personal attention. If your property is going to invest in social media, it’s better to train savvy social media managers who show good judgment, carefully respond to comments that are highly negative or positive, and preserve your reputation as an engaged, caring brand.